Debussy Piano Works

Author: 
James Methuen-Campbell
Debussy Piano Works – Kocsis

DEBUSSY Piano Works – Pommier

  • Pour le piano
  • Children's Corner
  • (3) Estampes
  • (La) Plus que lente
  • (2) Arabesques
  • Page d'album
  • (L') Isle joyeuse
  • (6) Images
  • D'un cahier d'esquisses (Equisse)
  • (L') Isle joyeuse
  • (2) Arabesques
  • Hommage à Haydn
  • Rêverie
  • Page d'album
  • Berceuse héroïque

Zoltan Kocsis is certainly one of the most talented pianists of our time and in the two books of Debussy's Images one can hear him at something like his peak. As soon as he plays the first few bars of ''Reflets dans l'eau'' one is engulfed in the extreme refinement of the sound. The shimmering lights on the water's surface come and go in the most fascinating manner. In the sombre pages of ''Hommage a Rameau'' I thought that perhaps it was Jones on Nimbus who was marginally more successful in capturing Debussy's harking back to the stateliness of the bygone age; his is an effective, if melancholy, evocation of one of the glorious figures of French music. Jones takes a less virtuosic approach in the next piece, ''Mouvement'', than does either Kocsis or Rouvier (Denon). However, the Hungarian's enervating use of technique creates swirling rhythms that are entirely fitting for the title.
In the Second Book the images are more specific. I felt that in ''Cloches a travers les feuilles'' Kocsis handled the initial right-hand theme too heavily, but none the less there is a wonderful sense of light and of the mysterious medley of shadows and delicate sounds playing on the ground and in the air. Kocsis has an ability to layer and control the dynamics between his hands that is quite superb. The classical purity and serenity of ''Et la lune descend'' are also caught with amazing insight and culture. The Images close with ''Poissons d'or'', in which the agitated fish appear and disappear in the water in an almost impudent manner; there is real humour and spontaneity here.
The other major work in Kocsis's remarkable recital is L'isle joyeuse. His tempo is absolutely identical to that of Pommier, although the latter is less conscious of the rhythmic life of the piece. Pommier's warm-toned treatment slightly diminishes the visionary impact. He manages the awkward changes in mood and figuration with exemplary fluency. However, I prefer Kocsis, who maintains a stronger sense of line.
The two early Arabesques, which both pianists play, remind one of other composers who influenced Debussy's style: Pommier's account of No. 1 stresses the debt to Schumann, whereas Kocsis's No. 2 is very like Grieg (he plays this considerably faster than the Frenchman). The other shorter pieces in Kocsis's recording generally maintain the same high standard. Especially noteworthy is the extraordinary balaneing of chords in the 6/8 au mouvement section of D'un cahier d'esquisses—this is a measure of his superb craftsmanship.
Jean-Bernard Pommier, for all his undoubted musicality, maturity and accomplished technique, does not quite compete, although I personally would be quite happy to own his CD. The ''Prelude'' from Pour le piano has a healthy strength, but the bias of sonority is rather in favour of the bass register and so the overall impression is more one of warmth than of brilliant colour. Pommier, who is by nature a serious artist, never allows himself to be deflected from conveying the essence of the music. In the ''Toccata'' from the same work one hears a much better articulation of rhythm than with many pianists who use it solely as a vehicle for display.
I found Children's Corner a bit short on innocent fun and charm. Pommier is not so intent on delighting the listener as in revealing Debussy's inventiveness and quirkiness. ''Jimbo's lullaby'', for one, is rather more straight than is fitting and ''The little shepherd'' does not have the pastoral/mythological flavour that it should. Estampes too tends to be on the stolid side. In these three pieces I had difficulty in finding an acceptable level of volume, since when achieving the right pianissimo the fortes were not strong enough and vice versa. Of all that Pommier plays here I liked the isolated piece La plus que lente the best. The air of gentle reminiscing is beautifully caught.
The piano sound on the Virgin CD is the least impressive that I have heard from this label, although there is nothing particularly wrong with it. By contrast, Philips have pulled out all the stops for Kocsis and have come up with a magically vivid recording, especially in the Images. Rouvier is a less eclectic player than Kocsis, but he is highly dependable. Martin Jones's recording is much the most reverberant and it is not of the same calibre as the Philips, but he plays with a perfect blend of style, pianistic refinement and musicality.'

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